ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland's acting U.S. attorney says he believes it would be prudent for a Maryland legislative ethics panel to hold off its own investigation into an indicted state senator "until the federal charges are resolved."
Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Schenning's letter to lawmakers dated Feb. 7 was read by a clerk in the Senate Monday night, a very unusual event for ethics proceedings that largely are kept confidential until recommendations for action are forwarded to one of the houses for a vote.
Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, the Baltimore Democrat who is facing federal bribery and obstruction of justice charges, was in the chamber when the letter was read, and he declined to comment after session.
Members of the General Assembly's ethics panel sent a letter to the prosecutor on Jan. 25. Lawmakers noted in the letter that the committee has a "history of deference to prosecuting authorities with respect to the suspension of the Committee's investigation of such matters ...," according to the prosecutor's letter.
Schenning then noted that he assumed the committee's investigation would involve questioning people with knowledge of facts underlying the allegations in the federal indictment, including Oaks.
"I believe it would be prudent for the Committee to hold its investigation in abeyance until the federal charges are resolved," Schenning wrote to Sen. James DeGrange and Del. Adrienne Jones, the two chairs of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics.
Oaks' trial is scheduled for April 16, a week after Maryland's legislative session ends.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who directed the ethics committee to take up the matter in the first week of the session, told reporters Monday night that the charges against Oaks only came to light in the late stages of last year's 90-day legislative session, and that he'd hoped the case would be resolved before lawmakers convened for this year's session in January. When that didn't happen, he directed the ethics committee to look into the case in the first week of the session, which began last month. That resulted in the letter to Schenning.
While the decision about how to proceed will rest with the committee, Miller said he doubted much more would happen there this session after the prosecutor's response.
"You know, there might be some issue with bond bills or something like that, but I'm not sure," Miller, a Democrat, told reporters Monday night. "It's up to the ethics committee, but I don't see anything else happening because of the response of the Justice Department."
The federal indictment alleges that Oaks took $5,000 from a source cooperating with prosecutors to file a request for a $250,000 bond bill on the source's behalf for a project.
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